With so many Digital SLRs to choose from it can be difficult to decide what one is right for you.
To help you decide here is a short check list of points to consider:
So, it's "make your mind up " time. If you have read the rest of this guide you may already have a good idea which model you want to buy. However, if the choice still seems bewildering, or perhaps you have jumped straight to this section, there follows a few recommendations and suggestions. All prices are correct as at December 2011.
There is an amazing choice of 'budget' DSLRs, and, with many compact cameras costing hundreds of pounds, it really is worth the little bit extra to get a more sophisticated camera that will allow you to take much more control over your picture-taking and will produce higher quality results.
For under £400 you could have the Canon EOS 1100D, together with the 18-55mm 'kit' lens. Offering 12 megapixels, a 63-zone metering system and video shooting, 'What Digital SLR?' magazine recently called this camera "the best current entry-level DSLR that money can buy". However, some may be put off by the lightweight plastic feel of this camera.
Nikon's starting model, the Nikon D3100, has a rubberised grip and feels a little more substantial. It appears to offer even better specifications than the Canon. 14 megapixels, a better ISO range, 11 autofocus points instead of 9 and 1080i video shooting, not to mention Nikon's excellent 'guide mode' to assist beginners, and all this can still be had for around £400.
However, don't overlook the less popular manufacturers. The Pentax K-r beat both the Canon 1100D and the Nikon D3100 in a recent group test by 'What Digital SLR?' magazine. It features 12 megapixel resolution, 11 autofocus points (including 9 cross-type), an ISO range expandable up to 25,600, 720p video shooting and an impressive 6 frames per second top speed. Best of all is the price. You can buy the K-r in a twin-lens kit, with both the 18-55mm standard zoom and a 50-200mm zoom and still have change out of your £500.
If you think you may want to upgrade later, both the Canon and Nikon have the advantage that you are buying into an extensive system, with a huge range of lenses and accessories available. However, if you just want a superbly-specified entry-level DSLR at a great price, look no further than the Pentax.
If your budget will stretch just a little, to around £570, you can pick up the Canon EOS 550D, an 18 megapixel stunner. Canon brought out the 550D shortly after the much-more expensive 7D, and it shares many of the same features, meaning it is punching well above its weight for its price point.
Digital SLR Basics
Digital SLRs and Digital Cameras Key Differences
Digital SLR or Compact System Cameras
Digital SLR Handling
Help for Beginners
Lenses and Accessories
Buying a Camera Lens
Digital SLR Accessories
Learn More About Features
Resolution and Sensor Size
Manual Exposure Modes
Help With Tricky Lighting
Live View and Articulated Screens
Depth of Field Preview Button
Current and Recommended Models
Summary of Current Models
Recommended Digital SLRs
Digital SLR Guide Author
This guide was written by Ian Younger
At this price point we are firmly into the territory of the 'enthusiasts' or 'semi-pro' DSLR. However, spending more money may not necessarily get you many more features, but you will get a camera that will do everything the entry-level models can do, only much better! You will also be more likely to get a metal body and a more robust construction, giving a real feel of having a more 'serious' camera.
If you do have extra money to spend then it is also worth thinking about getting a better lens than the typical 18-55mm standard zoom that normally comes with an entry-level model. The quality of your glass can transform your pictures, and good lenses are a real investment.
So, what are the choices at this level? Canon have the excellent Canon EOS 60D, an 18 megapixel camera, featuring a multi-angle articulated screen, 1080p HD video recording, ISO expandable to 12,800, the ability to convert RAW files to JPEG in-camera, and some new 'creative filters' for effects such as 'grainy black and white' and 'toy camera'. For around £1,000 you can buy the 60D with either a 17-85mm or a 18-135mm lens.
A better option may be the Nikon D7000, a 16 megapixel powerhouse, featuring a magnesium alloy body shell, a 39-point (9 cross-type) autofocus system, 1080p video, ISO expandable to 25,600 and 6 frames per second continuous shooting. The body alone can be bought for a street price of around £800, but you can pair it with the versatile 18-105mm lens, featuring vibration reduction, for just under the £1,000 mark.
A third option would be the Pentax K-5, widely thought to be the best DSLR yet from Pentax. Offering 16 megapixels, the camera also features 11 autofocus points, a 77-zone metering system, ISO expandable to 51,200 and 1080p video shooting, not to mention a 6 frames per second top speed. Within your budget you could, again, get two lenses with the Pentax, an 18-55mm plus a 50-200mm.
In terms of innovation, Sony is well worth a look. Their Sony SLT A65 'SLT' camera features their new translucdent mirror system and is impressively specified. 24 megapixels, 15 autofocus points, an incredible 1,200 zone metering system and phenomenal 10 frames per second shooting rate make this a real force to be reckoned with. Shop around and you can find this with a standard 18-55mm lens for under £800, leaving enough change for a decent bag or maybe a flashgun, plus a couple of extra memory cards.
While it is certainly possible to get more features for your money by buying less fashionable brands, Canon and Nikon have the benefits of a well-established pedigree and the biggest ranges of lenses and accessories, making the Nikon D7000 probably the pick of the bunch in this price bracket.
At this price point you are not quite reaching the heights of 'professional' DSLRs, but will certainly be able to buy a high-end semi-pro model with a decent lens, that should more than satisfy your creativity.
The Canon EOS 7D is a camera that many beginners and enthusiasts aspire to own, and a good number of pros use as a second camera - or even as their main camera for certain shooting situations, with its 8 frames per second shooting rate and 19 cross-type autofocus points and 63-zone metering system making it great at handling sports and action photography. With the versatile 18-135mm zoom lens, this comes in at around £1,400. However, if your budget will stretch a little, you can find it with the excellent 15-85mm for around £1,600.
The Nikon D300s, with a 16-85mm lens can also be picked up for a little under £1,600. This is the flagship of Nikon's APS-C models, although some would argue that the more recently-introduced D7000 should sit above it in the range rather than just below. It may only have 12 megapixels and only 720p video capability, but it also features 51 autofocus points and also has slots for two memory cards, enabling automatic overflow onto the second card when the first one is full, or allowing a backup copy of your pictures to be made.
An alternative option with Nikon may be to spend less on the camera body and get a better lens. For example, the D7000 is a very competent camera for around £800 and you would have enough left over to then get the excellent 24-85mm zoom lens at just over £500, still leaving some change for other accessories.
Once again, Sony should not be ignored. If you can put up with an electronic viewfinder, the translucent mirror technology offers exciting possibilities. The Sony SLT A77, like the Alpha 65, has 24 megapixels, but the Alpha 77 has an even higher continuous shooting speed of 12 frames per second and has 19 autofocus points, of which 11 are cross-type. However, this would push your budget to over £1,600.
There are not too many options in this price bracket, but, for the time being, the Canon 7D is widely acknowledged to be practically untouchable and would have to be at the top of your short list.
A professional-specification DSLR can cost several thousand pounds. However, if you already have some good lenses and are looking to upgrade, there are some excellent models that can be bought as a body-only kit. The Nikon D700 is a full-frame model that can be found for under £1,800, though some may feel the 12 megapixel resolution is too limiting.
Pick of the crop, though, would have to be the Canon EOS 5D Mk II. The camera of choice for countless pros, and recently voted by the readers of Amateur Photographer as the No. 1 in their all-time 100 greatest cameras, the 5D Mk II is a full-frame, 21 megapixel model. With the excellent 24-105mm f4 zoom lens it can be had for just over £2,000, and paired with the even-better 24-70mm f2.8 it is just over £2,500.